Wednesday, November 30, 2011

April 1, 1911, The Evening Post, Page 2, Column 1, SALVORS OF STATE PAPERS,


Fire at Albany Passed Over a Number of important Dutch and English Colonial Documents, and After Much Labor These Were Recovered -- Washington's Sword Still Buried.

Although for the greater portion of the 300,000 manuscripts in the State Library are a total loss, as a consequence of the fire at Albany, a large number---besides the most valuable ones saved through the foresight of Dr. Andrew S. Draper, commissioner of education---were rescued from the debris after two days' work on the part of James I. Wyer, jr., director, and a corps of salvors.

By four o'clock yesterday afternoon the last of the drenched and charred manuscripts had been removed in baskets to a temporary asylum provided by the Rt. Rev. William C. Doune, bishop of Albany, in a house at No. 163 State Street. Arnold J. T. Van Laer, State archivist, to whom intimate knowledge of the exact location of the more valuable treasures was largely due the success of the work, announced that all the debris in the manuscript room had been gone over. For two days Mr. Van Laer and his assitants, including a squad of laborers furnished by the Governor and a guard of soldiers by Adjt.-Gen. Verbeck, had worked over the debris. When they started the books were still burning, and in spite of the liberal use of the hose fire kept breaking out among the papers. Twice Thursday night the soldiers on guard had to turn a stream on the debris dug up the day before, and even the manuscripts which had been removed by hand to the neighboring Senate Judiciary Committee room burst once into flame.


As a result of the two days' work about a hunderd of the most important early books of record, dating from the Dutch and English period, were saved intact, and several hundred more or less charred, but capable of restoration. In addition to these, many hundred books and documents were taken out, from which valuable material may be recovered. Three bucketfuls of medals and coins were also recovered. Stored with the manuscripts were five memorial swords. Four of these, those presented to Gen. Worth in the war of 1812, were rescued, but the fifth and most valuable, that presented to George Washington by Frederick the Great, was not found up to a late hour last night, although four men spent all day digging for it.

I. N. Phelps Stokes, an architect of this city, whose interest in old New York records led him to offer his services to the New York Public Library, went to Albany Thursday to report on the situation, and assisted Mr. Van Laer in the direction of the work.

"When we first looked over the burned building," said Mr. Stokes, "we thought it would be impossible to get into the manuscript room at all from the inside. The usual approach from the main library was entirely blocked by debris. We decided we should have to get in by a ladder to one of the third floor windows. Through Mr. Ware, the State architect, we had already obtained from the fire chief permission to do this when we discovered we could get in through a seldom-used side door.

"The manuscript room is about twenty by forty feet, divided into three stories by mezzanine floors. The bottom floor had apparently been used as an office or reference room, while the bulk of the valuable manuscripts were stored in shelves and bookcases on the second floor.


"It was about noon when we finally got into the room. The whole place was filled with smoke, and the fire was by no means all out, in spite of a steady stream of water from a fire hose which had been fastened to the doorr. Dragging the hose with us, we climbed up by a ladder---the wooden stairs had been burnt out---to the second floor. It looked at first a pretty hopeless job. The smoke here was so thick you could not see the length of the room, and the debris, which was piled six feet deep in the aisles, was still actively burning.

"We soon found that some of the books along the wall were still intact---slightly charred, but otherwise in good condition. That encouraged us. We went back and got the firemen and soldiers and the twenty men the Governor had given us. All material dug out of the aisles by the men was passed along by a line of soldiers to the Senate Fudiciary Committee room, where it was piled on the floor and roughly sorted. Mr. Van Laer had given instructions that nothing was to be thrown away, and everything was passed on personally by him before it was discarded.

"We started work in the aisles. The room had evidently been a regular flue, and the flames that swept along the ceiling had completely consumed all the material on the upper shelves. The lower shelves, however, had been protected by a heavy counter, as well as by the stuff which had fallen from above. It was from these that we generally obtained practically all the material that was saved.

"Every once in a while we had to stop work to play the hose. It was not always easy to keep the men working. They got discouraged by the steady rain that poured down on them from the hoses that were being played on the floors up above. Finally we had to ask permission to have the water temporarily turned off above our heads. The water in the corridors was by this time everywhere ankle deep, in spite of the efforts of the vacume cleaner, which had been going all day sucking the water out.

"Before night we had removed most of the books from the lower shelves. These were among the oldest and most valuable of the material saved. This was all stored temporarily in the committee room, left for the night under guard of soldiers and firemen. Twice during the night the fire broke out again in the manuscript room, in spite of its long soaking, and the material not yet removed had to be still further damaged by another flood. Even the material that had been removed started smouldering again during the night.

"The work was continued yesterday. The most valuable manuscripts were carried in baskets, two soldiers to each, down to a house at No. 163 State St., where space was put at the disposal of the library by Bishop Doune for temporary quarters. Stacks were built in the basement with shelves of laths, so as to allow a free circulation of air. On these the manuscripts were spread out, one at a time.

"Meanwhile, excavation was still going on in the manuscript room. Many more early records were discovered, notably one of the earliest books af Dutch patents, dating from about 1640, and some few of the Clinton and Johnson papers, all of which had been reported as lost. By four o'clock everything had been removed, and roughly sorted. To-day the rest of the material will be taken down to the temporary quarters in State Street, and the work of reassorting will be begun."


ALBANT, April 1.—The State historian, Victor H. Paltsits, states that many valuable records in the State Library have bean lost through the haste of workman in casting debris from the burned Capitol into the street. Mr. Paltsits says he picked up yesterday about 500 feet from where the papers were being thrown from the building, a conveyance af land in the town of Groton bearing tha date of 1723. The writing was intact, and the State historian asserts that many of the papers which now litter the streets in the vicinity of the Capitol may have been documents of great value. Mr. Paltsits has tendered his services to the State librarian, Mr. Wyer, in the work of rehabilitating the library.

Commissioner Draper of the State Education Department estimates that only 10 per cent. of the 300,000 historical manuscripts will be salvaged from the wreckage of the library. The debris-strewn streets have become so unsightly that the city authorities asked John Bowe, State superintendent of public building., if something could not be done to prevent the paper from drifting about. Gov. Dix at once instructed Superintendent Bowe to arrange some other method for removing the wreckage.

The law provides that the court of claims may sit in any county in the state, and the sheriff of the county is expected to find adequate quarters. The Court of Claims rooms was one of those swept by the flames, and the judges have decided to hold their next term on April 17 in Syracuse. While it is planned to hold terms in various parts of the State until the repairs to the courtroom are completed, the clerical force will make its headquarters in Albany.

Relic hunters have become so active since the fire that all passes to the Capitol have been revoked and new ones are issued only to those who have business within the building.

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